For the second time this year, Chinese ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui has come up with a concrete plan to break the jinx causing a sharp downslide in Sino-Indian relations and put it back on the normal track.
The fact that he could unveil the four-point plan while speaking at the government-backed defence think-tank United Service Institution (USI) on Friday makes it rather significant.
The Chinese embassy released the text of Luo’s close-door lecture today in what is seen as a peace offensive to woo India and get it to send representatives to the ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) conference in Beijing in mid-May.
Also significant was Luo’s offer to mediate in Indo-Pakistan ties — but only if both countries (read India) accept it.
But his offer to rename the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor might not go down well with Islamabad — Luo said China was game for renaming the corridor China-Pakistan-India Economic Corridor and take it through Indian Kashmir as well if Delhi was agreeable.
“Even we can consider renaming the CPEC corridor. This is an example to China’s willingness to address India’s concerns,” Luo told the USI with former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal in the chair.
This points to China’s determined bid to get India into their One Belt One Road scheme and make it a stakeholder in the CPEC corridor by addressing ‘sovereignity issues’ Delhi has raised to back off.
Luo had made similar offer in January this year while speaking at Mumbai.
“Firstly, start negotiation on a China-India Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation. Secondly, restart negotiation of China-India Free Trade Agreement. Thirdly, strive for an early harvest on the border issue. Fourthly, actively explore the feasibility of aligning China’s ‘One Belt One Road Initiative’ (OBOR) and India’s ‘Act East Policy’,” Luo told the USI, with scores of Indian military officers, retired and serving, giving him a quiet listen.
China also offered to mediate conflicts between Pakistan and India.
“Otherwise, how could we open up and develop?” said Luo. “That’s why we say, we are willing to mediate when India and Pakistan have problems. But the precondition is that both India and Pakistan accept it. We do this only out of goodwill.”
Regional connectivity and ‘One Belt One Road’ could open up new opportunities for India and China, said the Chinese envoy.
“It is a strategic initiative aimed at promoting globalisation and economic integration.”
Luo also played down reports of the rivalry between the two Asian giants.
“Some people in the West misread China and tend to think that the ‘Dragon’ and the ‘Elephant’ are inevitable rivals, and that China would not like to see India developing,” he said. “This conception is wrong. We hope to see India develop well and we are more than happy to help India develop to achieve common development.”
China also pledged to fight against terrorism alongside the international community.
In January, Luo had pitched for the ‘Friendship and Cooperation Treaty’ along with a Free Trade Agreement to comprehensively boost relations between the two Asian giants who are locked in a long-standing border dispute.
He had then said that India and China could even take a sector-by-sector approach to resolve the border dispute — meaning if the two sides had resolved the dispute in any of the three sectors (West, Middle, East), they could go ahead with an agreement and wait for agreement on other sectors.
This marked a departure from previous Chinese positions, when Beijing insisted on a swap — India should agree to Chinese position in the western sector and China would reciprocate by agreeing to the Macmahon Line in the East.
Many saw in it a hardening of Chinese positions on Tawang — that even if India conceded the Chinese position on Aksai Chin, China would not go for a blanket acceptance of the Macmohan Line in the East because it wanted Tawang, the second most important seat of Tibetan Buddhism after Lhasa.
That was reinforced by Beijing’s furious response to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh this summer — perhaps because Beijing suspects the Dalai Lama may announce a reincarnation of his (effectively his successor) from Tawang.
India took control of Tawang in 1950.
Analysts say Beijing’s envoy had upped his peace offensive now to take advantage of Delhi’s growing dismay with the Trump administration over the H1B visas and many other issues.
“If Trump is depending on China to handle North Korea, why should we put all our eggs in the American basket and not deal with China directly on our bilateral issues,” said China watcher Binoda Mishra.
Many agree with Mishra and feel the Modi administration should not let relations slide too far downward.
“Trump has let us down on the visa-migration issue, it will affect our hi-tech industry, Trump has threatened to push India into negotiations with Pakistan. Compared to Trump’s pitch on Kashmir, the Chinese offer of mediation is rather mild but could be much more effective because China has more clout on Pakistan than the US,” said a former Indian ambassador.
But he was unwilling to be named because he was in a government formed committee on regional connectivity issues and had not been authorised to speak to the media.
The former diplomat argued that reopening the engagement with China could help India get the US — and also India’s traditional ally, Russia — on the right track.
“Washington will stop taking us for granted, the Russians will feel assured that we are not afraid to exercise our strategic autonomy,” said the former ambassador.
He also said this will make India’s smaller neighbors like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh happy because they needed both China and Indian support to develop and grow.
India’s official reaction to Luo’s latest four-point plan is not yet known. It might not accept Chinese mediation in dealing with Pakistan, but it might prompt some to consider picking up the thread from where the Manmohan-Musharaff dialogue had led to.
Doubtlessly, it will start a debate and may help the foreign policy lobby that seeks normalcy with China raise the ante against the security hawks whose confrontationist attitude against the northern neighbor can have unforeseen adverse consequences on many fronts.
Even the military, now hawkish on such issues, may back the idea of negotiations to arrest the downslide in Kashmir.